Updated: Nov 17, 2020
We are encouraged to see resorts taking steps to prepare for the ski season. With hard work and advanced planning we are optimistic about a safe, healthy and fun winter. The season will look different though. Lexi Dowdall and Sam Handy share early details on what to expect and how we can get ready for this season.
"Will there be skiing this year?"
We’ve heard this question time and again since resorts abruptly shut down last March and the Covid-19 pandemic remains on the forefront of everyone’s mind.
The short answer is...yes (and the evidence is mounting), but it will look different.
Resort leaders and industry groups are hard at work planning for the safe and timely re-opening of most resorts. Resort operators across North America have closely followed the mostly successful ski seasons that took place from June to September in the Southern Hemisphere. Many resorts in the Northern Hemisphere have been using the protocols and learnings developed by resort operators in New Zealand and Australia to shape their operating plans this winter. From spacing out lift lines to parking reservations, to reduced guest capacity, we are seeing a widespread trend in the resort industry to cater to the best and safest guest experience. For a great summary of operating procedures down under, we recommend The Sam Huddle: Lessons from Down Under podcasts.
This winter, it will be vital for guests to cooperate and follow all resort protocols and rules to keep our mountain communities, resort employees, and each other healthy and safe. By doing so, we can all guarantee our best shot at a full ski and shred season in 2021.
According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) “ski areas are uniquely positioned to provide low-risk outdoor recreational activities for millions of Americans.” Their Ski Well Be Well Campaign...
Below are the common operating guidelines that resorts plan to implement (with some variation amongst resorts):
Most resorts will enforce capacity constraints. Resorts have not yet provided specific constraints, but early reports are suggesting capacity will be north of 50% and in many areas closer to 70-80%. Vail resorts stated, "capacity should be adequate for demand for the 'vast majority' of days." Capacity will be dynamic. Some resorts (e.g., Jackson Hole, Big Sky and Sugar Bowl) are already limiting or ending resort specific season pass sales to ensure that those that do have passes will be able to access the resort as desired.
Many resorts will require pass reservations. ALWAYS check the resort's website before making plans, especially vacation or travel plans. Reservation policies are likely to be dynamic. Most resorts will limit or avoid selling day tickets at the window, while keeping the experience a bit more seamless for people who have already committed to their season pass products. Season pass holders (including multi-resort passes like the Ikon & Epic passes) will have priority to secure reservations. Vail resorts has announced that destinations will require advanced reservations with reservations opening November 6.
Indoor facilities will operate with limited occupancy, based on local regulations. Online ordering may be required at many food & beverage locations. Full service bars will likely not be open.
Face coverings will be required. While skiing or riding, face coverings may be removed so long as distancing is maintained. Masks will be required on all lifts, during lessons and at all times while indoors.
Touchless transactions will be the norm. Many areas have adopted technology to reduce contact between employees and guests including touchless payments, advanced online purchases, and RFID scanning of lift tickets.
Social distancing will be enforced. Ski mountains are fortunate to have hundreds of acres for guests to spread out. Resorts will implement new foot traffic patterns and restructure lift lines with clear markers to ensure separation between guests.
Sharing lifts will mostly be limited to riders from the same party. Early statements from Vail Resorts suggest two singles may be allowed on opposite ends of four or more person lifts. As a result, we would expect slightly longer wait times, offset by fewer riders.
Lessons will be available but group sizes will be smaller. Group and private lessons will be offered. Group sizes will be smaller though so make sure to book early. Some resorts may restrict lessons for children 6 years and younger, make sure to check with your specific destination.
As of early November, industry leaders remain confident that we will ski this winter and resorts are preparing to open for the 2020-21 season. How should we get ready? Below, we dig into some commonly asked questions.
Commonly Asked Questions
Should I plan to ski?
Yes, but this comes with some conditions. We recommend the following measures to enjoy your trip safely:
Follow all travel restrictions that are in place at the time of your trip (strongly consider driving rather than flying). Road tripping will be one of the best ways for winter travel. This is the season to support your local resorts.
Check the CDC website regularly for current travel restrictions and quarantine procedures that are rapidly changing. For example, New Mexico and Vermont currently have prohibitively restrictive quarantine policies, requiring any out-of-state visitor where viral cases above a certain threshold are present to quarantine for 14-days upon arrival. Variations in case counts are huge and where it is safe to travel is going to fluctuate a lot this winter. See here for the latest travel advisories by state.
Consider renting a private home through a service like AirBnb or VRBO (or just take a day trip!) rather than staying in a hotel.
Bring face coverings and wear them! Note: The CDC has advised that many ski neck gaiters are not effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus. For more guidance on effective face coverings, click here.
Be sure to check with the resort you are visiting on their specific ticket policy. Are they requiring reservations? Are they only open to pass holders?
Consider packing your own food to avoid crowded dining areas.
Be a respectful traveler. Realize that by traveling you are accepting a higher level of risk and viral exposure. As such you should be very sensitive to the communities you visit, especially mountain towns where health care systems are often small and rural. Do everything you can to keep yourself and the ski community safe.
Should I buy a season pass? What if mountains don’t open or shut down?
If you are planning on skiing more than 4 days and you would normally buy a pass, you should absolutely do so this year. All of the major multi-resort passes (and pretty much all of the regional and local passes) have introduced Covid-19 assurance policies that will credit or refund pass holders should resorts close due to the pandemic.
For the latest updates on multi-resort season passes and their Covid-19 policies, check out our blog here.
To find the best season pass for you check out our Season Pass Guide here.
Should I invest in new gear?
We recommend updating gear as you normally would. September is a great time to find new gear, as there is still some inventory left over from last season and the latest gear is starting to hit shelves.
Will there be lessons?
Yes, at most resorts there will be some lessons. Resorts are working on group sizing, configurations and teaching techniques to allow for greater distancing. Check with the specific resort you plan to visit and make sure to book early. Our guide to ski lessons has more details.
How will equipment rentals work?
Many resorts will be encouraging or mandating advanced reservations for ski and snowboard rentals. At some resorts, it may not even be possible to obtain rentals day of. Rental shops are being retooled for efficiency, moved outdoors, and streamlined to accommodate groups or families in Corona pods. Most shops are striving to take care of all transactional details, forms, and reservations ahead of time, online. Consider seasonal rentals or a delivery service.
When will resorts open (as of November 17)?
A few resorts have opened already and many have have announced opening dates, adding to our optimism. Below are projected opening dates for some of the resorts across the country (weather permitting). Pro tip - check the resort link for all of the insider details on the resort of your choice.
Keystone – November 6
Breckenridge – November 13
Winter Park – November 30
Vail – November 20
Steamboat – November 21
Crested Butte – November 25
Aspen Mountain – November 26
Snowmass – November 26
Beaver Creek – November 25
Telluride – November 26
Copper – November 30
Aspen Highlands – December 12
Killington – November 22
Stowe – November 20
Okemo – November 2
Smugglers' Notch – November 27
Sugarbush – November 21
Stratton – November 25
Mount Snow – TBD (pending snow)
Jay Peak – November 27